Six ethnic Vietnamese people arrested last March in a large brothel raid were convicted of human trafficking after a human rights NGO exhibited several incriminating videotapes at Phnom Penh Municipal Court Wednesday. A seventh ethnic Vietnamese woman stood trial and was freed.
Chang Yaing Hieb, 39, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for human trafficking and distribution of drugs. He was arrested with 184 amphetamine pills. Sok Chantha, 40, and Hay Kamlim, 45, were also sentenced to 15 years in prison, but were convicted only of human trafficking charges.
Le Thi Ngoc, 29, was found guilty of human trafficking and sentenced to 10 years. Nguyen Yaing Chouck, 35, and Nguyen Thi Viet, 50, were both charged as accomplices, and both received five-year prison sentences. All charges against Yor Thi Pheung were dropped.
During the trial, the defendants all followed a similar line of defense. One by one they stood in front of the court and denied being involved in or having any knowledge of the sex trade, the trafficking of women or the sale of underage girls.
When Sok Chantha, the third suspect to be questioned, was at the stand, an investigator from the US-based NGO International Justice Mission stood and began narrating a video he played for the court.
The IJM investigator explained that the video had been made with a hidden camera while he visited establishments in the Svay Pak brothel district.
On his way in and out of the courtroom, the IJM investigator wore a surgical mask to conceal his identity during the proceedings in order to avoid compromising further investigations.
The court craned their necks as the interior of a brothel appeared in grainy black and white video footage on the television screen. The investigator pointed to a figure on the screen and identified him as the suspect Sok Chantha.
Pausing the tape, the IJM investigator prefaced the following events: “The video will show [the defendant] agreeing to sell me a young girl for sex…. I agreed to five girls for $150. Three girls were under 10.”
Even after the first video was shown, the remaining defendants continued to deny all charges against them. But again and again their denials were refuted by the videotaped evidence.
Four of the seven defendants appeared on IJM’s videos. In each situation, the investigator asked the ages of the girls he was proposing to buy, what they would do and their price. He then offered a small amount of cash as down payment and recorded this monetary transaction before leaving.
The final defendant to be questioned, and the only one with a lawyer present, was Hay Kamlim. She was shown accepting money for two girls, aged 12 and 13, who others present on the tape claimed were virgins who had arrived from Vietnam only two days before.
“She told me I could have sex with the girls, but because they were ‘original’ girls I had to pay her $1,000 for each of them,” the investigator testified.
Hem Socheat, lawyer of Hay Kamlim, objected loudly to investigative methods used by IJM.
“He went down to instigate my client into committing crime by promising to give her much money. The drug law allows entrapment of criminals but it is not allowed by the sex trafficking law,” Hem Socheat said.
In response to this accusation, Sharon Cohn, director of IJM’s anti-trafficking operations said, “I do not know of any provisions in Cambodian law that would nullify the information provided by the investigators.”
IJM was “very pleased with the judge’s verdict as an expression of the commitment of [the Cambodian] government to protect the children of Cambodia from commercial sexual exploitation,” Cohn said later.